Group of Seven (artists)

The Group of Seven, once known as the Algonquin School, was a group of Canadian landscape painters from 1920 to 1933, originally consisting of Franklin Carmichael (1890–1945), Lawren Harris (1885–1970), A. Y. Jackson (1882–1974), Frank Johnston (1888–1949), Arthur Lismer (1885–1969), J. E. H. MacDonald (1873–1932), and Frederick Varley (1881–1969). Later, A. J. Casson (1898–1992) was invited to join in 1926, Edwin Holgate (1892–1977) became a member in 1930, and LeMoine FitzGerald (1890–1956) joined in 1932.

Frederick Varley, A. Y. Jackson, Lawren Harris, Barker Fairley (not a member), Frank Johnston, Arthur Lismer, and J. E. H. MacDonald. Image ca. 1920, F 1066, Archives of Ontario, I0010313.

Two artists commonly associated with the group are Tom Thomson (1877–1917) and Emily Carr (1871–1945). Although he died before its official formation, Thomson had a significant influence on the group. In his essay "The Story of the Group of Seven", Harris wrote that Thomson was "a part of the movement before we pinned a label on it"; Thomson's paintings The West Wind and The Jack Pine are two of the group's most iconic pieces.[1] Emily Carr was also associated with the Group of Seven, though never an official member.

Believing that a distinct Canadian art could be developed through direct contact with nature,[2] the Group of Seven is best known for its paintings inspired by the Canadian landscape, and initiated the first major Canadian national art movement.[3] The Group was succeeded by the Canadian Group of Painters in 1933, which included members from the Beaver Hall Group who had a history of showing with the Group of Seven internationally.[4][5]


Large collections of work from the Group of Seven are located at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa as well as the Ottawa Art Gallery (home to The Firestone Collection of Canadian Art) and the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario. The National Gallery, under the directorship of Eric Brown, was an early institutional supporter of artists associated with the Group, purchasing art from some of their early exhibitions before they had identified themselves officially as the Group of Seven.[6] The Art Gallery of Ontario, in its earlier incarnation as the Art Gallery of Toronto, was the site of their first exhibition as the Group of Seven in 1920.[1] The McMichael gallery was founded by Robert and Signe McMichael, who began collecting paintings by the Group of Seven and their contemporaries in 1955.[7]


Tom Thomson, J. E. H. MacDonald, Arthur Lismer, Frederick Varley, Frank Johnston and Franklin Carmichael met as employees of the design firm Grip Ltd. in Toronto. In 1913, they were joined by A. Y. (Alexander Young) Jackson and Lawren Harris. They often met at the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto to discuss their opinions and share their art.[1]

This group received monetary support from Harris (heir to the Massey-Harris farm machinery fortune) and Dr. James MacCallum. Harris and MacCallum jointly built the Studio Building in 1914 in the Rosedale ravine to serve as a meeting and working place for the new Canadian art movement. MacCallum owned an island on Georgian Bay and Thomson worked as a guide in nearby Algonquin Park, both places where he and the other artists often travelled for inspiration.[8]

Gas Chamber at Seaford, 1918, by Frederick Varley, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa

The informal group was temporarily split up during World War I, during which Jackson[9] and Varley[10] became official war artists. Jackson enlisted in June 1915 and served in France from November 1915 to 1917, at which point he was seriously injured.[11] Harris enlisted in 1916 and taught musketry at Camp Borden.[12] He was discharged in May 1918 after suffering a nervous breakdown.[12][13] Carmichael, MacDonald, Thomson, Varley and Johnston remained in Toronto and struggled in the depressed wartime economy.[12][nb 1] A further blow to the group came in 1917 when Thomson died mysteriously while canoeing in Algonquin Park. The circumstances of his death remain unclear.[1]

The seven who formed the original group reunited after the war. They continued to travel throughout Ontario, especially the Muskoka and Algoma regions, sketching the landscape and developing techniques to represent it in art. In 1919, they decided to make themselves into a group devoted to a distinct Canadian form of art which did not exist yet, and began to call themselves the Group of Seven.[8] It is unknown who specifically chose these seven men, but it is believed to have been Harris.[14] By 1920, they were ready for their first exhibition thanks to the constant support and encouragement of Eric Brown, the director of the National Gallery at that time. Prior to this, many artists[who?] believed the Canadian landscape was not worthy of being painted. Reviews for the 1920 exhibition were mixed,[15] but as the decade progressed the Group came to be recognized as pioneers of a new, Canadian, school of art.

After Frank Johnston moved to Winnipeg in the fall of 1921, Percy James Robinson was invited to fill the open spot. Robinson participated in the group's 3rd exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario.[16] In 1926, A. J. Casson was invited to join.[8] Franklin Carmichael had taken a liking to him and had encouraged Casson to sketch and paint for many years.

The Jack Pine, 1916–17, by Tom Thomson, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

The Group's champions during its early years included Barker Fairley, a co-founder of Canadian Forum magazine,[17] and the warden of Hart House at the University of Toronto, J. Burgon Bickersteth.

The members of the Group began to travel elsewhere in Canada for inspiration, including British Columbia, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and the Arctic. After Samuel Gurney Cresswell and other painters on Royal Navy expeditions, these were the first artists of European descent who depicted the Arctic.[citation needed] Soon, the Group made the decision that to be called a "national school of painters" there should be members from outside Toronto. As a result, in 1930 Edwin Holgate from Montreal, Quebec became a member, followed by LeMoine FitzGerald from Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1932.[6]

The Group's influence was so widespread by the end of 1931, and after J. E. H. MacDonald's death in 1932, they no longer found it necessary to continue as a group of painters. They announced that the Group had been disbanded and that a new association of painters would be formed, known as the Canadian Group of Painters. The Canadian Group—which eventually consisted of the majority of Canada's leading artists—held its first exhibition in 1933, and continued to hold exhibitions almost every year as a successful society until 1967.


The Group of Seven has received criticism for its reinforcement of terra nullius presenting the region as pristine and untouched by humans when in fact the areas depicted have been lived in for many centuries.[18] This sentiment was expressed by Jackson, who in his 1958 autobiography wrote,

After painting in Europe where everything was mellowed by time and human associations, I found it a problem to paint a country in outward appearance pretty much as it had been when Champlain passed through its thousands of rock islands three hundred years before.[19]

In 1966, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario incorporated the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, an art gallery with an institutional focus on the Group of Seven, along with "their contemporaries and on the aboriginal peoples of Canada".[20] In addition to housing a collection of works by the Group of Seven, the museum property also contains the burial ground for six members of the group, including A.Y. Jackson,[21] Arthur Lismer,[22] Frederick Varley,[23] Lawren Harris,[24] Frank Johnston,[25] and A.J. Casson;[26] along with four of the artists' wives. The McMichael cemetery is situated in the small patch of consecrated land bordered by trees, with graves marked by large chunks of the Canadian Shield. The idea to use the property as a burial ground for the group was first proposed to the institution by Jackson in 1968.[27]

In 1995, the National Gallery of Canada compiled a Group of Seven retrospective show, for which they commissioned the Canadian rock band Rheostatics to write a musical score. That score was released on album as Music Inspired by the Group of Seven.

Contemporary painter Rae Johnson was inspired by Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven in the themes of some of her works and her choice of painting place, as were many other artists.[28][29]

Shows of Group of Seven members or single paintings in some combination are a perennial favorite of the Canadian exhibition world, particularly of the National Gallery of Canada. The Group still receives criticism, usually for what it left out of the narrative. In 2016, for instance, a publication criticized it for its paintings of empty landscapes which helped to forge a fictitious national identity that celebrated the land as open for ownership and extraction.[30] This concept was explored by Canadian artist Will Kwan in his show, Terra Economicus, of 2021, held at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa.[31] Other omissions are noted. But usually the Group is simply regarded as part of Canadian art history and explored in depth, as, for instance, for the centenary, the Kelowna Art Gallery in 2020 organized Northern Pine: Watercolours and Drawings by the Group of Seven from the McMichael Canadian Art Collection curated by Ian M. Thom.[32] The National Gallery of Canada also organized shows for the centenary, such as the Magnetic North: Imagining Canada in Painting, 1910-1940, shown at the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt in 2021. For the centenary as well, the National Gallery`s Philip Dombowsky of the Library and Archives at the Gallery organized a show titled Group of Seven: Graphic Design.[33][34]


On September 18, 1970, Canada Post issued 'The Group of Seven', designed by Allan Robb Fleming and based on a painting, "Isles of Spruce" (1922), by Arthur Lismer and held in the Hart House Permanent Collection, University of Toronto. The 6¢ stamps are perforated 11, and were printed by Ashton-Potter Limited.[35]

On June 29, 1995, Canada Post issued 10 stamps, each based on a painting of a member of the group (7 original members and 3 additional members):

  • Francis Hans Johnston, Serenity, Lake of the Woods[36]
  • Arthur Lismer, A September Gale, Georgian Bay[37]
  • James Edward Hervey MacDonald, Falls, Montreal River[38]
  • Frederick Horsman Varley, Open Window[39]
  • Franklin Carmichael, October Gold[40]
  • Lawren Stewart Harris, North of Lake Superior[41]
  • Alexander Young Jackson, Evening, Les Éboulements[42]
  • Alfred Joseph Casson, Mill Houses[43]
  • Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald, Pembina Valley[44]
  • Edwin Headley Holgate, The Lumberjack[45]

On May 7, 2020, Canada Post honoured the centennial of the Group's first exhibition, at the Art Gallery of Toronto (May 7, 1920), by issuing seven stamps, featuring paintings by each of the original members.[46] The stamps were produced in a booklet of seven self-adhesives, and on a souvenir sheet of seven gummed stamps. First day ceremonies were cancelled, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, so designs were unveiled online on May 6, via the social media accounts of the postal service and several galleries across the country which own the works featured on the stamps:

  • In the Nickel Belt (1928), by Franklin Carmichael
  • Miners’ Houses, Glace Bay (circa 1925), by Lawren S. Harris
  • Labrador Coast (1930), by A.Y. Jackson
  • Fire-swept, Algoma (1920), by Frank H. Johnston
  • Quebec Village (1926), by Arthur Lismer
  • Church by the Sea (1924), by J.E.H. MacDonald
  • Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay (1921), by F.H. Varley

In 2012–2013, the Royal Canadian Mint issued seven pure silver one-ounce coins, collectively reproducing one painting by each original member:[47]

  • F.H. Varley Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay (April 2012)[48]
  • Arthur Lismer Nova Scotia Fishing Village (July 2012)[49]
  • Franklin Carmichael Houses, Cobalt (October 2012)[50]
  • Lawren S. Harris Toronto Street, Winter Morning (January 2013)[51]
  • Franz Johnston The Guardian of the Gorge (March 2013)[52]
  • J.E.H. MacDonald Sumacs (June 2013)
  • A.Y. Jackson Saint-Tite-des-Caps (September 2013)

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ For a thorough discussion of the activity of the group during the war, refer to Mellen 1970, 70; Larisey 1993, 34-36; Reid 1971, 109-120


  1. ^ a b c d Silcox, David (2003), The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson, Firefly Books, 2003, ISBN 9781552976050, retrieved 19 October 2011
  2. ^ Housser, F. B. (1926), A Canadian Art Movement, Toronto, Ontario, p. 24
  3. ^ Chilvers, Ian, Glaves-Smith, John (27 August 2009), "Group of Seven", A Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art, Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780199239665, retrieved 18 October 2011
  4. ^ Meadowcroft, Barbara (1999). Painting friends: the Beaver Hall women painters. Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Véhicule Press. ISBN 1-55065-125-0.
  5. ^ Harris, Lawren, Murray, Joan (1993), The Best of the Group of Seven, McClelland & Stewart, 1993, ISBN 9780771066740, retrieved 19 October 2011
  6. ^ a b Varley, Christopher, "Group of Seven", The Canadian Encyclopedia, Historica Foundation, retrieved 18 October 2011
  7. ^ "McMichael gallery co-founder dies". CBC Arts. 5 July 2007. Archived from the original on 13 November 2012. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
  8. ^ a b c Hill, Charles C. (2004). Group of Seven. The Oxford Companion to Canadian History. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195415599. Retrieved 18 October 2011.
  9. ^ Brandon, Laura. (2008). Art and War, p. 46., p. 46, at Google Books
  10. ^ Davis, Ann. (1992). The Logic of Ecstasy: Canadian Mystical Painting, 1920–1940, p. 30., p. 30, at Google Books
  11. ^ Mellen, Peter (1970). The Group of Seven. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart. p. 70. ISBN 978-0771058158.
  12. ^ a b c Roza, Alexandra M. (1997). Towards a Modern Canadian Art 1910-1936: The Group of Seven, A.J.M. Smith and F.R. Scott (PDF) (Thesis). McGill University. p. 26 n. 24.
  13. ^ Murray, Joan (2006). Rocks: Franklin Carmichael, Arthur Lismer, and the Group of Seven. Toronto: McArthur & Company. p. 52. ISBN 978-1552786161.
  14. ^ Silcox, David P. (2003). "Introduction". The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson. Toronto, Ontario: Firefly Books Ltd. p. 17. ISBN 1-55297-605-X. Someone decided whom to invite to that historic meeting, and probably Harris, or Harris after conferring with MacDonald, was responsible.
  15. ^ Varley, Christopher. "Group of Seven". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Foundation. Retrieved 18 October 2011.
  16. ^ Silverbrooke, M.D. "Dr. Percy James Robinson". askART.
  17. ^ Symington, Rodney. "Fairley, Barker". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Foundation. Retrieved 18 October 2011.
  18. ^ Mitchell, Thomas W.J. (15 April 2002), Landscape and Pow, 2002, ISBN 9780226532059
  19. ^ Jackson, A.Y. (1958). A Painter's Country. Toronto: Clarke Irwin. p. 25.
  20. ^ "McMichael Canadian Art Collection Amendment Act, 2011". Queen's Printer for Ontario. 2020. Retrieved 21 February 2020.
  21. ^ A.Y. Jackson Archived 28 March 2006 at the Wayback Machine, McMichael Canadian Art Collection
  22. ^ Arthur Lismer Archived 12 December 2013 at the Wayback Machine, McMichael Canadian Art Collection
  23. ^ Frederick Varley Archived 12 December 2013 at the Wayback Machine, McMichael Canadian Art Collection
  24. ^ Lawren Harris Archived 28 March 2006 at the Wayback Machine, McMichael Canadian Art Collection
  25. ^ Frank Johnston Archived 12 December 2013 at the Wayback Machine, McMichael Canadian Art Collection
  26. ^ A.J. Casson Archived 25 November 2005 at the Wayback Machine, McMichael Canadian Art Collection
  27. ^ Larsen, Wayne (2009). A.Y. Jackson: The Life of a Landscape Painter. Dundurn. p. 210. ISBN 978-1-7707-0452-7.
  28. ^ Murray, Joan (1994). Tom Thomson:The Last Spring. Toronto: Dundurn Press. p. 85. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
  29. ^ Jules Heller; Nancy G. Heller (19 December 2013). North American Women Artists of the Twentieth Century: A Biographical Dictionary. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-135-63882-5.
  30. ^ Anderson, Benedict (2016). Imagined Communities. New York: Verso. ISBN 978-1784786755. Retrieved 11 August 2021.
  31. ^ "Will Kwan". Robert McLaughlin Gallery, Oshawa. Retrieved 11 August 2021.
  32. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "An Evening with Curator Ian Thom". youtube/kelowna art gallery, oct 23, 2020. Retrieved 27 August 2021.
  33. ^ "Magnetic North: Imagining Canada in Painting, 1910-1940 [Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt]". National Gallery of Canada. Retrieved 29 April 2021.
  34. ^ "Group of Seven: Graphic Design". National Gallery of Canada. Retrieved 29 April 2021.
  35. ^ "Canada Post stamp". 18 September 1970. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
  36. ^ "Canada Post stamp". 29 June 1995. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
  37. ^ "Canada Post stamp". 29 June 1995. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
  38. ^ "Canada Post stamp". 29 June 1995. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
  39. ^ "Canada Post stamp". 29 June 1995. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
  40. ^ "Canada Post stamp". 29 June 1995. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
  41. ^ "Canada Post stamp". 29 June 1995. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
  42. ^ "Canada Post stamp". 29 June 1995. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
  43. ^ "Canada Post stamp". 29 June 1995. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
  44. ^ "Canada Post stamp". 29 June 1995. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
  45. ^ "Canada Post stamp". 29 June 1995. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
  46. ^ Canada Post celebrates centennial of Group of Seven's first exhibition, Canada Post news release, Ottawa, May 6, 2020
  47. ^ "Fine Silver Group of Seven 7-Coin Subscription (2012–2013)". Retrieved 24 March 2014.
  48. ^ "Fine Silver Coin – Varley, Stormy Weather – Mintage: 7,000 (2012)". Retrieved 24 March 2014.
  49. ^ "Fine Silver Coin – Lismer, Nova Scotia Fishing Village – Mintage: 7000 (2012)". Retrieved 24 March 2014.
  50. ^ "Fine Silver Coin – Carmichael, Houses, Cobalt – Mintage: 7000 (2012)". Retrieved 24 March 2014.
  51. ^ "1 oz Fine Silver Coin – Lawren S. Harris, Toronto Street Winter Morning – Mintage: 7000 (2013)". Retrieved 24 March 2014.
  52. ^ "1 oz Fine Silver Coin – Franz Johnston, The Guardian of the Gorge – Mintage: 7000 (2013)". Retrieved 24 March 2014.

Further readingEdit

  • Boulet, Roger and Group of Seven and Tom Thomson (1982). The Canadian Earth. M. Bernard Loates, Cerebrus Publishing. ISBN 0920016103.
  • Cole, Douglas (Summer 1978). "Artists, Patrons and Public: An Inquiry into the Success of the Group of Seven". Journal of Canadian Studies. 13 (2): 69–78. doi:10.3138/jcs.13.2.69. S2CID 152198969.
  • Colgate, William (1943). Canadian Art: Its Origin and Development. Toronto: Ryerson Press.
  • Davis, Ann (1992). The Logic of Ecstasy: Canadian Mystical Painting, 1920-1940. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  • Dawn, Leslie (2006). National Visions, National Blindness: Canadian Art and Identities in the 1920s. Vancouver: UBC Press.
  • Dejardin, Ian, ed. (2011). Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. London: Dulwich Picture Gallery.
  • Duval, Paul (1972). Four Decades: The Canadian Group of Painters and Their Contemporaries, 1930-1970. Toronto: Clarke Irwin.
  • ——— (1978). The Tangled Garden. Toronto: Cerebrus/Prentice-Hall.
  • ——— (1980). A.J. Casson; A Tribute. M. Bernard Loates, Cerebrus Publishing. ISBN 0920892027.
  • ——— (1982). A.J. Casson; My Favourite Watercolours. M. Bernard Loates, Cerebrus Publishing. ISBN 0920016138.
  • ——— (2010). Lawren Harris, Where the Universe Sings. M. Bernard Loates, Cerebrus Publishing. ISBN 9780981129709.
  • Eisenberg, Evan (1998). The Ecology of Eden. Toronto: Random House of Canada.
  • Grace, Sherrill E. (2004). Canada and the Idea of North. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.
  • Harper, J. Russell (1966). Painting in Canada: A History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  • Harris, Lawren (July 1926). "The Revelation of Art in Canada". Canadian Theosophist. 7: 85–88.
  • ——— (1929). "Creative Art and Canada". In Brooker, Bertram (ed.). Yearbook of the Arts in Canada, 1928-29. Toronto: Macmillan. pp. 177–86.
  • ——— (October 1943). "The Function of Art". Art Gallery Bulletin [Vancouver Art Gallery]. 2: 2–3.
  • ——— (1948). "The Group of Seven in Canadian History". Canadian Historical Association: Report of the Annual Meeting held at Victoria and Vancouver, 16-19 June 1948. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. 28–38.
  • ——— (1964). The Story of the Group of Seven. Toronto: Rous and Mann Press.
  • Hill, Charles C. (1995). The Group of Seven: Art for a Nation. National Gallery of Canada. ISBN 0-88884-645-2.
  • Housser, F. B. (1926). A Canadian Art Movement: The Story of the Group of Seven. Toronto: Macmillan.
  • Hubbard, R.H. (1963). The Development of Canadian Art. Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada.
  • Jackson, A.Y. (Summer 1957). "Box-car Days in Algoma 1919-20". Canadian Art. 14: 136–41.
  • ——— (1958). A Painter's Country. Toronto: Clarke Irwin.
  • Jessup, Lynda (Spring 2002). "The Group of Seven and the Tourist Landscape in Western Canada, or the More Things Change...". Journal of Canadian Studies. 37: 144–79. doi:10.3138/jcs.37.1.144. S2CID 141215113.
  • King, Ross (2010). Defiant Spirits: The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven. D & M Publishers. ISBN 9781553658078.
  • Larisey, Peter (1993). Light for a Cold Land. Toronto: Dundurn Press.
  • MacDonald, J. E. H. (22 March 1919). "The Canadian Spirit in Art". The Statesman. 35: 6–7.
  • ——— (December 1919). "A.C.R. 10557". The Lamps: 33–39.
  • MacDonald, Thoreau (1944). The Group of Seven. Toronto: Ryerson Press.
  • MacTavish, Newton (1925). The Fine Arts in Canada. Toronto: Macmillan.
  • Martinsen, Hanna (1984). "The Scandinavian Impact on the Group of Seven's Vision of the Canadian Landscape". Konsthistorisk Tidskrift. L111: 1–17. doi:10.1080/00233608408604038.
  • McInnis, Graham C. (1950). Canadian Art. Toronto: Macmillan.
  • Mellen, Peter (1970). The Group of Seven. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart.
  • Murray, Joan (1994). Northern lights: masterpieces of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. Toronto: Key Porter. Retrieved 20 April 2021.
  • Murray, Joan; Harris, Lawren (1993), The Best of the Group of Seven, McClelland & Stewart, ISBN 0-7710-6674-0
  • O'Brian, John; White, Peter, eds. (2007). Beyond Wilderness: The Group of Seven, Canadian Identity, and Contemporary Art. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.
  • Reid, Dennis (1970). The Group of Seven. Ottawa: The National Gallery of Canada.
  • ——— (1971). A Bibliography of the Group of Seven. Ottawa: The National Gallery of Canada. pp. 109–120.
  • Robson, Albert H. (1932). Canadian Landscape Painters. Toronto: Ryerson Press.
  • Silcox, David P. (2011). The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson. Richmond Hill: Firefly Books. ISBN 9781554078851.

External linksEdit